UNITED STATES President Barack Obama this week announced his support for same-sex marriage.
Presently there are three bills before the Australian Parliament pushing for a change to the Marriage Act.
The tide of public opinion on the issue appears to have turned in favour of same-sex unions — with recent US and Australian polls putting support for gay marriage in the majority.
Earlier this year, Hepburn Shire passed a motion to lobby the federal government for the legalisation of gay marriage, becoming the first Victorian municipality to address the issue.
Hepburn Shire mayor Sebastian Klein told The Standard there had been hopes their advocacy would encourage other councils to do likewise. “Personally, if I was a ratepayer in another council I would applaud my council for bringing it up,” Cr Klein said.
“The community here had hoped that it would spread further, that maybe there would be a wave of shire’s across the state (supporting same-sex marriage).”
He said the shire had felt the need to lobby the government as part of the council’s commitment to advocate on behalf of our communities.
“I’d like to see other (shires) do it if it’s important to their communities.
“By far … the majority (of the feedback) has been really positive and people have been very glad that we’ve had the courage to stand up for what we believe in.
“Certainly there’s been some recoil from parts of the community, but even from within some of the faith-based communities there has been quite a positive reaction.”
Hepburn Shire is known as a LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex)-supportive community, Cr Klein said, but he said the majority of the population was in favour of gay marriage. “In this day and age, most people think this is a core issue of equality that needs to ironed out,” he said.
The Standard attempted to contact every councillor in its readership area — which includes Warrnambool, Moyne, Corangamite, Southern Grampians, Colac-Otway and Glenelg councils — to ask them how they would hypothetically vote if Hepburn Shire’s motion was put before their own council.
According to the Hepburn Advocate, the motion read: “Council resolves to call upon the Australian Parliament to amend the Marriage Act to enable same sex couples to marry and to ensure that same sex marriages solemnised overseas are recognised in Australia.”
Of the 42 councillors in the region, eight either declined to comment or did not return our calls. Of the 34 that did respond, 21 refused to indicate how they would hypothetically vote, with most stating it was not a local government issue.
Of the 13 that gave an opinion, 10 said they would support such a motion or that they supported or did not oppose same-sex marriage. Only three councillors said they were against same-sex marriage.
Warrnambool’s Jackie Wallis, who is the project worker with Youth United Making Change against Homophobic Attitudes (YUMCHA), welcomed Hepburn Shire’s motion and disagreed with most councillors assertions that gay marriage was not important at a local government level.
“It would be local government showing support for all members of their community,” Ms Wallis said.
“Any advocacy by our community leaders is a benefit and shows support for all people. It’s about a fair go no matter who you are.
“(If a council lobbied the government to change the Marriage Act) it’s telling the young people there’s nothing wrong with being gay. A lot of same-sex-attracted young people grow up hearing nothing but negative messages from home or the schoolyard.”
Ms Wallis said Jeff Kennett’s recent change of stance regarding the issue was to be applauded.
“Whether you like him or not, he was man enough to say publicly ‘I support gay marriage because now I understand it and I understand the effects’,” she said.
“That’s why it’s so important for our community leaders and our community to stand up and say these people are the same as anybody else — they love, they work, they pay rates.
“It’s pretty much everybody’s issue. I challenge anyone to claim they don’t know anyone who’s gay.
She said Warrnambool City Council had been very supportive of YUMCHA and would like to see the councillors take it a step further and lobby the government to allow same-sex marriage.
“If you changed the word ‘gay’ and replaced it with ‘black’ and asked the question ‘should black people be allowed to get married?’ there would be an uproar. And it wasn’t that long ago that indigenous people had to get permission … but that changed. This sort of thing wouldn’t be accepted if it was about any other group of people.”